The ICANN Ninja
Was excited to see this article on the BBC: “The Next US leader? Ask a Ninja” over my morning coffee and it’s not just because I think ninjas are the coolest.
There are a number of groups around the world who are experimenting with the impact of the Internet on how people make decisions. The environment ministry in the UK recently put together a wiki on how do address climate change. Conversely, the Blair government just got smacked by a huge online petition against a proposed road-pricing system.
It is an exciting time to be involved in policy making, especially where it crosses over with the Internet. That’s one of the main reasons I became interested in ICANN. It really is at the forefront of much of these efforts and I think has a lot of lessons that it can share with the world about what works and what doesn’t in this field.
However, despite an intricate and evolving policy structure one of our key challenges is explaining what we do and how we do it. Just this week I was on a conference call with some IISD interns [iisd.org] trying to explain what ICANN was. They were completely bewildered by our website.
Happy talking talking
ICANN has a passionate dialogue going on right now where we want to encourage as much participation as we can without appearing to over step our mandate. We have these arguments internally where some people say “hey that’s not accurate, you’re not precisely outlining what we do” and others say, “if we say what we do like that no one is ever going to understand what we do.” And you get people like me who say, man, maybe ICANN just needs a ninja!
It sounds a bit irreverent to say ICANN needs a ninja, which is why it’s nice to know the Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT is in my court. The ninja issue raises a very serious point.
ICANN has been discussing how to approach the communications and participation issue for so long its structures are in real danger of being eclipsed by new technology and modes of interaction.
We’re also in danger of forgetting that there are a lot of issues that compete for people’s attention. As the transaction cost for getting an issue into the public space declines the competition for people’s spare time has gone up. We can no longer just assume people will be interested in ICANN issues.
Most of ICANN’s website is rather web 1.0. We, and the people who participate in ICANN, do very little of the type of outreach a ninja might do. We certainly haven’t got 500,000 views on YouTube, let alone posted anything on YouTube at all.
Our interactions are mostly via mailing lists (aside from this flashy new blog!), but email use is declining amongst people below 25 as they move to IM and myspace based interaction.
That being said, a critical reason our website looks pretty boring is that we have a global audience, and it’s important to recall most Internet users, including my mom, are still on dial-up.
So we’ve got two challenges.
First: In a space where competition for people’s time is becoming almost perfect, how can we best reach out to people? What lessons can we learn from communities like the environmental community and what lessons can we teach?
Second: How do we keep up with and inspire the people on broadband who are going video and web 2.0 while reaching out to people all over the world who are just discovering the Internet and are mostly on dial up?
They are questions that would challenge even a Ninja, but we and those with an interest in ICANN and our policy making model, need to think about how best to answer them soon.